Category Archives: Einstein

H.P. Lovecraft and the Influence Eclipses Had on Him

solar-eclipse-www.nj.com               The 21st August 2017 solar eclipse (www.nj.com)T

Last month’s total solar eclipse occurred on the 21st of August 2017, one day after H.P. Lovecraft’s birthday.  The last total solar eclipse through the continental United States before this year was 26 February 1979; before that the last total solar eclipse was on 8 June 1918.  Surprisingly I could find no reference to it in Lovecraft’s essays on astronomy. However, by 1918 Lovecraft was shifting the majority of his writing from astronomical observations to fiction. Lovecraft did note partial or total solar eclipses in April 1903, June 1908, June 1909, January 1916 and January 1917. He also noted a solar eclipse that was observed as a partial one in the northeastern part of the United States on 21st August 1914 (Joshi, 2004), 103 years before the one we just observed last month.

The last time Lovecraft reported on upcoming eclipses in his astronomical articles was in the 1 December 1917 edition of the Evening News.  In the article Lovecraft states, “Two eclipses will occur this month, an annular eclipse of the sun and total eclipse of the moon. The solar eclipse, which occurs on the 14th, will be invisible at Providence, but visible in the Antarctic regions and the southern parts of the American and Australian continents. The lunar eclipse falls on the 28th and will be generally visible here, except for the final emergence of the moon from the earth’s penumbra, which will take place after our satellite has set in the morning” (Joshi, 2004).

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Just for clarification, a lunar eclipse is where the sun, Earth and moon are aligned with Earth in the middle. During a total lunar eclipse, direct sunlight is completely blocked by the Earth’s shadow so the only light observed is that refracted through Earth’s shadow. Lunar eclipses give the moon a reddish color, sometimes called a blood moon, due to the scattering of more blue light and more red light being received by our eyes.

Luna-roja A lunar eclipse

In contrast, a solar eclipse such as the one that occurred last month, is when the sun, Earth and moon are aligned with the moon between the sun and the Earth. For a solar eclipse, this conjunction of the three bodies can only occur during a new moon, which is the first phase of the moon where it and the sun have the same elliptical longitude.

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While Lovecraft did not appear to officially document any more eclipses in astronomical articles after the end of 1917, he did note a time when he traveled to Boston to spend time with W. Paul Cook in late August 1932. They then went to Newburyport to see a total solar eclipse.  Lovecraft noted “The landscape did not change in tone until the solar crescent was rather small, & then a kind of sunset vividness became apparent. When the crescent waned to extreme thinness, the scene grew strange & spectral – an almost deathlike quality inhering in the sickly yellowish light” (Joshi, 2014).

It should be noted a particular solar eclipse did contribute toward a major change in Lovecraft’s view of the Cosmos, specifically in reference to Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity. Isaacs Newton and physicists since him have described gravity as a force – and this concept works well when describing the motions of planets and other “large” bodies. However, Einstein said gravity was the result of a distortion in space-time, created by the presence of mass (Farndon, 2007). Thus, the larger the mass of the object, the greater the distortion.

BLOG_www.solar-eclipse.earth_einstein_1140w483_300dpi-min_1Gravity being the result of distortions in space-time due to mass (www.solar-eclipse.earth) 

When Einstein initially proposed this idea most of the scientific community did not think much of the hypothesis. Like many of Einstein’s ideas, it was very strange and his calculations were difficult to follow. A key point to Einstein’s idea was that everything would be impacted by these distortions, even light. Einstein knew that no one would take his idea seriously if it could not be empirically tested and validated. In the spring of 1919, the astronomer Sir Arthur Eddington took photographs during a solar eclipse – which is the only time that stars can be seen during the day. His results confirmed that the light of a star did indeed shift or “bend” when it passed close to the Sun. This shift was almost exactly as Einstein predicted.

Negative_photo_of_the_1919_solar_eclipse_medium                                                                                          Negative photo of the 1919 solar eclipse, which confirmed Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity

The confirmation of the Theory of General Relativity through the collection of empirical data during a solar eclipse had a profound impact on Lovecraft’s philosophical view of the Cosmos. For example, in a letter to his friend James F. Morton, Lovecraft stated that Einstein’s Theory of Relativity throws our world and perception of reality into chaos, making the cosmos a jest or as he put it: “All the cosmos is a jest, and fit to be treated only as a jest, and one thing is as true as another” (S.T. Joshi’s I Am Providence:  The Life and Times of H.P. Lovecraft from Hippocampus Press, 2013).

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While initially Lovecraft actually appears a little distressed over the confirmation of the Theory of General Relativity, he did eventually come to terms with its concepts as demonstrated in his fiction. While some have been critical of Lovecraft’s use or distorted use of Einstein’s Theories in his fiction, it was still innovative story writing at the time – using cutting edge physics and science in horror fiction. Some of the most interesting “connections” recognized by Lovecraft and incorporated into this cosmic fiction included the importance of non-Euclidean geometry and math in a “curved space-time” Einsteinian universe. Thus, of all of the solar eclipses Lovecraft documented in his life, the one off the west coast of Africa on 29th of May 1919 probably had the largest impact on him as a writer.

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Next time we will discuss the one story of Lovecraft’s where an eclipse was an important component of the tale – The Other Gods. Thank you – Fred.

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H.P. Lovecraft and Time Travel, Part 2

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Einstein’s theories of relativity combined the three dimensions of space with time to create four-dimensional Space-Time. As part of the special theory of relativity, the closer you reach the speed of light, the slower the rate of time so if you could travel at the speed of light you could travel into the future relative to everyone else.

While traveling into the future is possible within the confines of Einstein’s relativistic Space-Time, assuming one could achieve at least almost fast as the speed of light travel, traveling into the past does not seem feasible, particularly due to the paradoxes than can be generated when thinking of time as linear flow that has only one pathway.  For example, the “grandfather paradox” is an example of if you could travel into the past and prevent your grandfather from meeting your grandmother.  In such conditions, one of your parents would not be born and therefore you would not exist.  Another example is the “free lunch paradox” where you invent a new technology – say a time traveling machine – go back in the past and give the plans to your younger self. If you give your younger self the plans to the time machine did you even design / invent it in the first place?

In a more deterministic Universe of Einstein’s Relativity such paradoxes are perplexing.  However, as described in the previous article, additional work on Einstein’s equations by others, coupled with additional insights provided by quantum mechanics, have indicated that time is more like a meandering river than an arrow shot into the air.  Small inlets that easily break off the main stem of the river and can even flow back into the river further upstream.

lightconebig                                                    A two-dimensional lightcone diagram showing space and time (www.einstein.stanford.edu)

Taking the river analogy a little further, a small inlet that separates from the main stem may be another parallel universe with its own Space-Time. Thus, in the case of the grandfather paradox both occur – there is a Universe where you accomplished your goal and you were never born and there is another where you failed and you were born and there is probably another where you did not even build the time machine in the first place.

In the late 19th and early 20th century, time was generally perceived as always moving forward and in one specific, linear direction.  Traveling into the past or future was generally thought of the stuff of science fiction popularized by H.G. Wells in his influential novel The Time Machine, which Lovecraft called “thoroughly entertaining in every detail” (I Am Providence: The Life and Times of H.P. Lovecraft (by S.T. Joshi; 2013).  In the novel the narrator can travel into the distant past or future with the aid of a machine or vehicle as it’s called in the novel. Well’s stated in the novel that time is the fourth dimension, which means one would need a timeship to move through it as one would need a spaceship (or plane) to travel the three spatial dimensions. The use of a timeship was a fairly common troupe in science fiction literature in the early 20th century; however, for Lovecraft traveling through time and even space did not require a vehicle.

wells_maxresdefault George Pal in the 1960 movie version of H.G. Wells The Time Machine.

A frequent method of Space-Time travel used by Lovecraft was the exchange of consciousnesses between two entities as demonstrated in “Beyond the Wall of Sleep” and extremely effectively in The Shadow Out of Time. Essentially, the consciousness of an individual is a huge amount of information that is downloaded into the body of another. The Yithians appeared to master this on a species level, where they would avoid destruction by transferring their collective minds into another species from a distant world as well as from a distant time (past or future). In the case of The Shadow Out of Time the Yithians transferred their collective minds into the Cone-Shaped Beings who resided on Earth in the distant past, becoming what was then known as The Great Race.

great-race_AJ_Jankins_hatesnack.com.jpg A member of the Great Race by AJ Jankins (www.hatesnack.com)

By having the consciousness and not the material body travel through time Lovecraft avoids the compilations of removing matter from one time-stream and dumping into another. Essentially, information and not matter travels through time. As has been discussed in previous articles on The Shadow Out of Time such technology may be a possible way for humans to travel through interstellar space and possibly become immortal (The Future of the Mind: The Scientific Quest to Understand, Enhance, and Empower the Mind by Michio Kaku; 2014).

michio-kaku-future-of-the-mind

This form of time travel, particularly on a species level, avoids the need for the physical transport of an individual or individuals from one time to another, thus avoiding paradoxes with meeting oneself from a different time. This concept of time traveling and avoiding the paradox of meeting one’s self will be further reviewed in next week’s discussion of “The Silver Key.” Thank you – Fred.

 

H.P. Lovecraft and Time Travel

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“I think I am probably the only living person to whom the ancient 18th century idiom is actually a prose and poetic mother-tongue.”

“-leaving the sunny downstairs 19th century flat, and boring my way back through the decades into the late 17th, 18th and early 19th century by means of innumerable crumbling and long-s’d tomes of every size and nature – “

“I am certainly a relic of the 18th century both in prose and in verse.”

Based on these quotes, taken from S.T. Joshi’s I Am Providence: The Life and Times of H.P. Lovecraft (2013), H.P. Lovecraft felt trapped in the future. He frequently talked about “the supremely rational 18th century” when great strides in physics, astronomy, chemistry and biology were made. A large part of Lovecraft’s own philosophy of life was based on Hugh Samuel Roger Elliot’s Modern Science and Materialism (originally published in 1919), which in turn is largely based on the rational thought and science of the latter half of the 18th century and 19th century.

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By the end of the 19th century, it was thought that the Laws of Nature and Life were fully understood. This is why Einstein’s Theories of Relativity were initially distressing to some scientists as well as Lovecraft. While Lovecraft did eventually resolve his view of the Universe with Einstein’s theories, as can actually be seen in the evolution of his stories, he experienced this same concern over his view of the cosmos with quantum theory. While Lovecraft’s view of the cosmos was indifferent and uncaring relative to humanity and all life, it was based on the cosmos functioning under well-established rules and laws of nature (Newton’s Laws of Gravitation, Darwin and Wallace’s Theory of Evolution, etc.) like a large machine. The Theories of Relativity and Quantum Mechanics shook this up and thus Lovecraft’s philosophy. Such “strange science,” coupled with his preference for the literature of the previously centuries (see above), made Lovecraft pine to live in the 17th, 18th or early 19th century.

finlay_lovecraft H.P. Lovecraft as an 18th century poet by the great Virgil Finlay.

Given Lovecraft’s wish to live in a simpler time, it is not surprising that time travel would periodically show up in his stories. As previously discussed, tales such as “The White Ship” and The Shadow Out of Time, are examples of moving out of our perceived linear, Newtonian flow of time. Einstein essentially linked Space with Time, which means that if a stable and large enough wormhole could be created, time travel may be possible. Suddenly, time was not simply linear.

yith-2014 The Great Race were expert time travelers (illustration by Steve Maschuck)

To Newton and the physicists that followed, Time was thought of as an arrow; once shot it can’t change its course and moves linearly in one direction. With Einstein’s Space-Time as described in his Theory of General Relativity, space (and therefore time) could be warped. Thus, instead of Time being thought of as an arrow, it was more like a meandering river; gently speeding up in riffles and slowing down in pools with small eddies of backflow (Parallel Worlds: A Journey Through Creation, Higher Dimensions and the Future of the Cosmos by Michio Kaku; 2005).

This concept of Time having backflows, whirlpools or forks did worry Einstein, particularly when one of his contemporaries, W. J. Van Stockum, in 1937 found a solution to Einstein’s equations that permitted for the possibility of time travel (Michio Kaku, 2005). Other mathematicians and physicists, for example Kurt Gödel in 1949 and Kip Thorne in 1985, identified various solutions to Einstein’s equations and potential ways to travel in time. Beyond the equations, the methodologies to achieve time travel vary from traveling around an infinitely long cylinder close to the speed of light to traveling around the circumference of the known universe a little faster than its rotating, to the creation of two wormholes traveling at the speed of light, connected with a “bridge” of negative energy. Matter can be thought of as positive energy, gravity can be thought of as negative energy (Michio Kaku, 2005).

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Based on these mathematical calculations, using Einstein’s equations, General Relativity does allow for the possibility of time travel. However, in all cases the problem is one of energy. The amount of energy needed to bend, twist or warp time (Space-Time) is so high that Einstein’s equations actually break down and quantum theory takes over (Hyperspace: A Scientific Odyssey Through Parallel Universe, Time-wraps and the 10th Dimension by Michio Kaku, 1995). Thus, while on paper time travel is possible, it’s the engineering that limits its development.

hyperspace_kaku_1995

In many of the potential scenarios for time travel, such as using the gravitation forces of a black hole for the needed energy, the forces / energies would surely destroy us before any time travel occurred. However, many of Lovecraft’s entities are either from Universes with a different set of natural forces and laws or possibly from outside the known multiverse altogether. Thus, the Old Ones may have the ability to harness these forces and energies and use them to travel multiple Space-Times. However, as I have previously hypothesized the “weakness of the Old Ones” is the fact that they cannot form a stable and consistent form of matter in our Space-Time. This is why I believe the Old Ones have not yet dominated our Universe and why they even have any dealings with humanity. We need to provide them with something within our Space-Time, whether its “opening a door” on this side of reality or providing a part of us (e.g. DNA); both of these scenarios are exemplified in “The Dunwich Horror.” However, the one story that I believe best supports the “weakness of the Old Ones” hypothesis is “The Dreams in the Witch-House.”

Walter Gilman, a student at Miskatonic University, is working on some multidimensional mathematics and quantum mechanics for his graduate work. Indeed, for time travel since General Relativity begins to break down into the quantum level, both need to be united in higher dimensions – in fact up to 10 or 11 dimensions; our four dimensions plus six to seven others folded and tucked out of our reality. Accessing these higher dimensions may be a way of entering hyperspace, a means to travel vast distances and times. Indeed, this is what both Walter Gilman and the witch Keziah Mason succeed at doing. However, the vast amount of energy needed to open these higher dimensions are not available to us so how do they do this?  Essentially, the available energy is provided by Nyarlathotep. Thus, using math or magic (to the Old Ones probably the same thing), one gains access or the attention of the Old Ones. The Old Ones provide the energy needed for this hyperspace travel and get something in return. Signing Nyarlathotep’s book in blood may be providing a sample of DNA the Old Ones need to attempt to enter and remain in our Space-Time. Of course the question remains – if we truly want to time travel, is it only achievable if we establish some sort of pact or agreement with the Old Ones? Will we as a species be able to harness, control and utilize the enormous forces and energies needed for interdimensional, interstellar and inter-time travel?

the-dreams-in-the-witch-house-jhc-by-h_-p_-lovecraft-2-2120-p The Dreams in the Witch-House, illustrated by Pete Von Sholly

I would like to conclude with a quote from Michio Kaku (1995) that every much sounds like Lovecraft:

“Einstein’s equations, in some sense, were like a Trojan horse. On the surface, the horse looks like a perfectly acceptable gift, giving us the observed bending of starlight under gravity and a compelling explanation of the origin of the universe. However, inside lurk all sorts of strange demons and goblins, which allow for the possibility of interstellar travel through wormholes and time travel. The price we had to pay for peering into the darkest secrets of the universe was the potential downfall of some of our most commonly held beliefs about our world – that its space is simply connected and its history is unalterable.”

 

I believe Lovecraft would absolutely agree with this – we are finding out the universal machine does not necessarily operate the way we think it does. Next time we will talk about time paradoxes and how Lovecraft handled them in his stories. Thank you – Fred.

H.P. Lovecraft and Albert Einstein, Part 4 – HPL’s Application of Einstein’s Theories

This article continues and concludes a review of where in his fiction H. P. Lovecraft cites Einstein or his theories.  After the novella At the Mountains of Madness, the next time HPL mentions Einstein in his fiction is in the collaboration between HPL and Henry S. Whitehead – The Trap.

The Horror in the Museum and Other Revisions by HPL (revised; Arkham House, 1989).  This revised collection included the story The Trap.

Essentially, the story is about a mirror that was created by a sorcerer / glass blower who was conducting investigations into the 4th dimension.  Through his work, he developed a means of creating a stable space (in hyperspace?)with the aid of the unique mirror he constructed.  Within this mirror space, one does not age and “consciousness would go on virtually forever, provided the mirror could be preserved indefinitely from breakage or deterioration.”

As mentioned above, this sorcerer (Holm) was conducting a serious study of the 4th dimension and was far from beginning with Einstein’s work in our own era.  Thus, Holm’s work on the 4th dimension was beyond anything that Einstein worked on; however, is it possible that this point of not aging within the mirror space is an outcome of Einstein’s Theory of Relativity?  Is the mirror space somehow traveling close to or even faster than the speed of light in another dimension, which results in the incredibly slow rate of aging?

After The Trap, the next story where HPL mentions Einstein is The Dreams in the Witch House.  A number of pervious articles were exclusively devoted to this story so here we only identify where Einstein was cited.

Dreams in the Witch House by Ronan McC

Einstein was cited twice in The Dreams in the Witch House.  In the first instance it is recognized that Keziah Mason, a 17th century witch has the mathematical insight that was beyond the “delvings of Planck, Heisenberg, Einstein, and deSitter.”  I will review each of these other physicists in future articles.

Later in the story while Gilman is in class at Miskatonic University, there is a discussion about the “freakish curvatures in space” and how there may be parts of reality – cosmic units as HPL called them – beyond the whole Einsteinian space-time continuum.  Once again, HPL cites Einstein’s theories as an acceptable interpretation of our universe and that anything that does not follow his theories is “outside” or beyond our reality.

The last time HPL specifically cites Einstein is in his novelette The Shadow Out of Time.  Future articles will focus on this story so again, here I will only discuss where Einstein is cited in the story.

A Yithian (by Zippo4k) from The Shadow Out of Time

Nathaniel Wingate Peaslee was a professor at Miskatonic University and suffered from an extended bout of amnesia from 1908 to 1913.  Again, future articles will discuss The Shadow Out of Time in more detail but when Peaslee regained his “self” he suffered from strange dreams and impressions.  When he conveyed some of these ideas to the professors of mathematics and physics at the university, they cited Einstein’s work on relativity and how he [Einstein] “was rapidly reducing time to the status of a mere dimension.”

A conceptual illustration of integrating time into the three dimension of space (from the article  Distance Learning in Einstein’s Fourth Dimension by Robin Thorne; in Nonpartisan Education Review, Essays: Volume 3; Number 1)

In this last reference to Einstein in HPL’s work, he just doesn’t talk about ideas or things outside of Einsteinian space-time but here he is referencing Einstein’s work on Special Relativity that makes time the fourth dimension.  By this time in HPL’s life he clearly recognized Einstein as making substantial contributions to physics, science and humanity as a whole.  If HPL lived longer who knows where this may have lead in this writings.  Would HPL have been as obsessed in a Unified Field Theory the way Einstein was?  And what about Einstein’s work that led the way to developing nuclear weapons?  I’m sure such ideas would have fueled HPL’s cautious fascination with science.

Next time, we will be talking about the science behind HPL’s story From Beyond.  Thank you – Fred

H.P. Lovecraft and Albert Einstein, Part 3 – HPL’s Application of Einstein’s Theories

In this third article on H.P. Lovecraft and Albert Einstein, we focus on where HPL cited Einstein or his theories in his fiction. In HPL’s stories the first reference to Einstein, although not specifically by name, was in Hypnos.   “One man with Oriental eyes has said that all time and space are relative, and men have laughed.  But even that man with Oriental eyes has done no more than suspect.”  Thus, here HPL is points to the fact that Einstein understood something of the universe that few did, however, even Einstein did understand the true nature of the cosmos. Hypnos by Verreaux (deviantart.com)

Einstein was specifically mentioned in The Strange Case of Charles Dexter Ward.  In the story Ward was working on uncovering the “neglected arts” of his ancestor Joseph Curwen.  On the consideration of these forbidden and nearly unknown arts, “Not even Einstein, he declared, [Ward], could more profoundly revolutionise the current conception of things.”  Again, HPL is making the point that not even humanity’s most innovative and “out of the box” thinker could grasp what he [again Ward] was trying to accomplish.

The great Vince Price as Charles Dexter Ward in Roger Corman’s The Haunted Palace, which is based on Lovecraft’s The Strange Case of Charles Dexter Ward

In The Whisperer in Darkness there was a distinct shift in how HPL incorporated Einstein in his writings.  Specifically, this shift moves from Einstein not understanding what lies beyond or the forbidden arts, to having an encounter with beings or situations outside of what has been established as the Einsteinian universe of relative space-time.  The first instance of this was when the recording was played of occurrences near the Akeley farmhouse on May Eve 1915.  Between the letters and the recording, Wilmarth and Akeley hypothesize that the strange creatures in Vermont were an….”interstellar race whose ultimate source must lie far outside even the Einsteinian space-time continuum or greatest known cosmos.”

In The Whisperer in Darkness the thing posing as Henry Akeley in that lonely farmhouse in Vermont tells Albert Wilmarth all sorts of strange facts about our solar system and beyond.  As part of this conversation, the Akeley-Thing make the statement – “Do you know that Einstein is wrong, and that certain objects and forces can move with a velocity greater than that of light?  With proper aid I expect to go backward and forward in time, and actually see and feel the earth of remote past and future epochs.”

Still shot from the great movie The Whisperer in Darkness (Directed by Sean Branney; Distributed by the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society)

Again, we see the point made that while we live in an Einsteinian space-time Universe, there are other things that do not.  This story was written in 1930 and published in Weird Tales in 1931 (Joshi, 1999: The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories), after HPL personally accepted Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity  based on empirical data.  Thus, HPL was attempting to convey that the things he writes about are indeed from “beyond” or “outside” of our accepted universe and reality.

The importance and acceptance of Einstein’s work and theories was also demonstrated in At the Mountains of Madness.  When Lake, Fowler and the other researchers find triangular striated prints in sandstone and limestone that are over 600 million years old, they send a message to the base camp where Lake makes the statement “Emphasize importance of discovery in press.   Will mean to biology what Einstein has meant to mathematics and physics.”

The point here  is their discoveries in the Antarctic would revolutionize our view of biology the way Einstein’s theories revolutionized physics.  Since the subject of discussion was biology why didn’t HPL make a statement such as – the findings would be the biggest revelation in the field of biology since the work of Charles Darwin?  Clearly, HPL thought quite a bit of Einstein at the time.

An Elder Thing (or Elder One) by Loston Wallace

Next time we will wrap up HPL’s citations of Einstein in his stories.  Thank you – Fred

H.P. Lovecraft and Albert Einstein, Part 2 – HPL’s Thoughts on Einstein’s Ideas

The previous article was a very brief review of some of Albert Einstein’s accomplishments in theoretical physics.  This article will provide some information on what HPL thought of Einstein’s work, while a subsequent article will then review how HPL incorporated some of Einstein’s ideas in his stories.

Like many in the scientific community at the time, HPL had a lot of reservations and was very skeptical about Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity.  It wasn’t until the first empirical test was performed and supported Einstein’s theory, that the skepticism of both the scientific community and HPL started to decline.  This support came in 1919 when measurements on how light from a star  shifts  as it passes close to the Sun during an ellipse were made.  These results confirmed Einstein’s theoretical ideas. However, in addition to providing evidence toward Einstein’s theory, this progress in theoretical physics had a profound and philosophical impact on HPL.  For example, in a letter to his friend James F. Morton, HPL says that Einstein’s Theory of Relativity throws our world and perception of reality into chaos, making the cosmos a jest or as HPL put it: “All the cosmos is a jest, and fit to be treated only as a jest, and one thing is as true as another.” – HPL from S.T. Joshi’s I Am Providence:  The Life and Times of H.P. Lovecraft (Hippocampus Press, 2013). Lovecraft’s Universe by Shane Gallagher

As cited above, the empirical measurements collected during 1919 solar eclipse, which provided evidence and support for Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity, had a profound impact on HPL who said, “[the results of the experiment]….removes the last hold which reality or the universe can have on the independent mind.” – Joshi, 2013. In another instance HPL said that as a result of Einstein’s work, “All is change, accident and ephemeral illusion…” – Joshi 2013.

S.T. Joshi’s incredibly detailed, yet very entertaining, biography of H.P. Lovecraft.  A real bargain when purchased on the Kindle or a similar device.  Highly recommended.

One gets the impression reading these quotes that HPL felt vilified, and yet slightly disappointed, that his materialistic and random perception of the universe is being confirm through Einstein’s investigations.  However, as Joshi point out in I Am Providence (Joshi, 2013), much of this stems from HPL’s confusion and bafflement associated with Einstein’s theories.  Yet, HPL was not alone.  Most people found Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity hard to understand due to the complex mathematics.   Those few who understood the math still rejected it as absurd (Farndon, 2007).

Based on Einstein’s Theory and its incorporation of gravity into General Relativity, the universe should be either expanding or contracting.  Based on some of the material cited in Joshi’s book, this idea generated unease in HPL since he sided with most scientists at the time that the universe has always existed and is infinite.  It sounds like over time, HPL came to terms with this idea (Joshi, 2013).  Indeed so did most of the scientific community, particularly when Edwin Hubble’s work on receding galaxies and the red shift phenomenon (that is, Hubble’s Law – the greater the distance of a galaxy, the faster it recedes) provided additional support for Einstein’s theory.   Much of Hubble’s work was conducted through the 1920’s and early 1930’s but much of this work was not presented to the public until the mid- to late 1930’s, which may explain why I can not find any mention of Hubble’s work in HPL’s fiction or essays.

Hubble’s Law of receding galaxies (from www.scienceblogs.com)

As cited above, in spite of the difficulty in understanding Einstein’s ideas, particularly those associated with Relativity, HPL did seem to come to terms with its concepts and did incorporate some of these ideas (or the idea of “breaking” some of these universal laws) into his fiction.  And while some have been critical of HPL’s use or “abuse” of Einstein’s Theories in his fiction, it was still innovative story writing at the time – using cutting edge physics and science in horror fiction.  Probably one of the most interesting “connections” recognized by HPL was the importance of non-Euclidean geometry and math in a “curved space-time” Einsteinian universe.

Einstein taking a break from his mathematical work and looking into the heavens with associates.

Next time we will discuss the use of Einstein’s ideas, or references to Einstein himself, in HPL’s fiction.  Thank you – Fred.

Was Einstein an Old One?  (by Retto; on drawception.com)

H.P. Lovecraft and Albert Einstein, Part 1

In order to explore how the scientist Albert Einstein’s work impacted the writer H.P. Lovecraft, we need to first discuss Einstein’s contributions to physics and science in general.  Thus, this article will review Einstein’s work from 1905 to the early-1930’s, which is the period of time when Lovecraft would be reading about his work.  The subsequent article will review how HPL incorporated some of Einstein’s concepts and ideas into his stories.

A shot of R’lyeh from “The Call of Cthulhu” movie by the HP Lovecraft Historical Society

If Sir Isaac Newton was the most famous scientist of the 17th – 18th century, and Darwin was the most famous scientist of the 19th century then Albert Einstien was, beyond a shadow of a doubt, the most famous scientist of the 20th century.  While chiefly known for his theory of relativity and his famous equation:

which essentially states that mass is simply energy in a different form, Einstein contributed a large number of innovative ideas to physics and science as a whole.  A small sampling of these ideas are displayed in Einstein’s “miracle year” of 1905 (John Farndon, 2007; The Great Scientists: From Euclid to Stephen Hawking).  During that year, Einstein wrote five papers, each one of them truly remarkable.  The first was on the photoelectric effect (when light hits metal, electrons are dislodged from the atoms of the metal).  Einstein used the recently developed quantum theory to show that light behaved like energy, which are emitted in discrete quantities by radiating objects .  In the case of energy these discrete quantities are called quanta.  In the case of light, Einstein suggested these particles are called photons.  Thus, photons could knock electrons off their atoms.  Experiments conducted in 1913 confirmed that Einstein’s idea was correct and for that he won the Nobel Prize in 1921.

A photon knocking an electron off an atom (student.ccbccmd.edu)

Einstein’s second paper was, through his calculations, providing a means of measuring the size of molecules.  For that paper he was awarded his doctorate from the Zurich Polytechnic.

His third paper was a theoretical explanation for Brownian motion – the movement of tiny particles suspended in liquid.  What is cool about this is that I can actually see Brownian motion when looking at particularly tiny algae or bacteria under the microscope.  There is a “vibration” of the particles (including the tiny cells), which is due to background heat energy causing this vibration and collision of paticles – this paper provided futher evidence of the existence of atoms.

brownian motion

A diagram demonstrating Brownian motion (www.tutorvista.com)

The fourth paper was “On the Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies”, which outlined his Special Theory of Relativity.  In a nutshell, it states that space and time are relative to the observer (an idea that appeared to fascinate Lovecraft).  Put another way, the only reason why we all experience space and time the same way is because we are all moving at the same speed, relative to each other (Farndon, 2007).  This is where the idea comes from that if you could move at the speed of light, time would slow down relative to those not traveling at the speed of light.

Most people are familiar with this scenario: twins, one remains on Earth, the other travels in space at the speed of light.  The special theory of relativity is valid for the twin on Earth but not for the space traveler.  Thus, the one in space ages slower than the one that remained on Earth (www.zamandayolculukcom).

The fifth paper of Einstein’s in 1905 was his famous equation, which states mass is simply energy in a different form.  What is amazing is Einstein worked on these ideas in a purely theoretical format but all were then supported with empirical evidence!

Ten years later (1915) Einstein extended the Special Theory of Relativity to include gravity – which became his General Theory of Relativity.  Newton and physicists since him described gravity as a force – and this concept works well when describing the motions of planets and other “large” bodies.  However, Einstein said gravity was the result of a distortion in space-time, created by the presence of mass (Farndon, 2007).  Thus, the larger the mass of the object, the greater the distortion.

Illustration showing the Earth and the Moon warping space-time

Conceptual display of the distortions in space-time of both the Earth and the moon.  Since Earth has a larger mass than the moon is produces a larger distortion (i.e. gravity).  This is at the heart of the theory of General Relativity (www.bbc.co.uk).

At the time, most of the scientific community did not think much of this hypothesis.  Like many of Einstein’s ideas, it was very strange and innovative and his calculations were difficult to follow.  A key point to Einstein’s idea was that everything would be impacted by these distortions, even light.  He knew that no one would take his idea seriously if it could not be empirically tested and validated – and indeed it was.

In the spring of 1919, the astronomer Sir Arthur Eddington took photographs during a solar eclipse – which is the only time that stars can be seen during the day (when the Sun is out).  His results showed that the light of a star did indeed shift or “bend” when it passed close to the Sun.  This shift was almost exactly as Einstein predicted.  Once again, as I previously mentioned, one of Einstein’s theoretical ideas turned out to be confirmed with empirical data.

In the late 1920’s Einstein was trying to develop a Unified Field Theory, where all laws of nature would be explained by one theory.  Such a theory would link the motion and laws of the stars and planets to sub-atomic particles; in other words the theory of General Relativity would be linked to that of electromagnetism.  Many scientists said Einstein should abandon this line of thought and instead focus on quantum mechanics.  However, through the 1920’s and on Einstein became more involved with world affairs and less in theoretical physics.

To conclude, as the most recognized scientist in the world, even back in the 1910s – 1930s, Lovecraft would have been familiar with Einstein’s work.  Einstein’s ideas frequently worked into popular periodicals and newspapers and his work obviously had an impact on Lovecraft’s imagination.  With this very tiny introduction into some of Einstein’s work, the next article will focus on how Lovecraft integrated many of Einstein’s ideas into his stories.  Thank you – Fred.